Who’s Counting You?
What do you know about the place from where you arrived compared to their place?! What do you know about your mission and the incredible rectifications which are made from your every action and little bit of will?! Only look at yourself!
Rav Yisrael Asulin
Translated by Moshe Neveloff
Monday, 1st of Iyar, 5776
Forty Nine days, forty nine blessings with God’s name and kingship, forty nine preparations. The Counting of the Omer.
“You shall count for yourselves- from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving- seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days.” (Leviticus, 23:15-16)
Everyone knows that these verses are referring to the forty nine levels of coming closer and becoming holier leading up to the receiving of the Torah. However, Rebbe Natan explains that the words “you shall count for yourselves” are the basic principle which all of the service rests upon: “’you shall count for yourselves’- to yourselves. Specifically to yourselves, that means that each person needs to count the Counting of the Omer, which is the aspect of strengthening himself, according to who he is, and he shouldn’t become discouraged by the fact that it seems to him that his peers are much better than him… because no person is similar to his friend at all.” (Likutei Halchot, laws of Passover, 9:22)
When we want to make progress in something, to fulfill a spiritual service, to strengthen our fulfillment of a mitzvah, to be better, to come closer to Hashem, to pray with more heart, to be more patient and pleasant and attentive and accepting and calm and friendly to each person… In any thing we want to strengthen and in anything that we accept upon ourselves, we are aware of the fact that we might run into external difficulties; at home or outside the home, with friends or family or the boss or the neighbors or a passerby who is especially careful, someone is going to try to prevent us from our (spiritual) work. Someone will jeer at you in a harsh way: “Why are you trying to pretend like you’re a tsaddik? Who are you trying to fool with this pose?! We already know you!” Or, “Do you really think that the chocolate you eat or don’t eat is connected to your spiritual growth?! Come on, be easygoing!” Or, “What’s with you and Uman?? You’re wasting so much money in order to visit some Tsaddik who passed away 200 years ago? Have some sense!!! Go to Prague!” There are many other piercing and empty sayings like these…
In the face of all of these types of resistance and obstacles, we try, and in many cases succeed in being brave like tigers not to be embarrassed by people who mock our service of Hashem.
However, the more difficult and hidden battle is in a complete different area. This battle is not conducted against ‘evil people’ who slander us, they conduct an open frontal battle against us. Rather this battle happens inside of us, and in this battle we are also against ourselves, looking at the image of other ‘tsaddikim’ and wondering why it’s not us…
In this battle the evil inclination presents to us with great generosity a magnifying glass focused on all of our friends, those who began like us at the same starting point… and look at where he is today! He’s made so much progress! He’s so successful! And look at him, he lost thirty kilos in six months!! How am I stuck on the same numbers for thirty years?! That guy who does personal prayer every day- he’s really doing it! He doesn’t fall asleep like me after five minutes… and my wife and her brother and my Rabbi and that guy from the shul and all the Jewish people… they are all much better than me!
So how is it that I can also make progress? How can I too do personal prayer today where I’m just sleeping? Isn’t it preferable to do something else with the time and that’s it? My personal prayer is not worth anything anyways! Look, look at my friend and understand what true prayer is!
Do you understand? There are people who are capable, it’s successful for them, those who with every day of the counting of the Omer they reach a new level, they leave another level of impurity and enter a level of holiness, and every teaching they hear enters straight into their heart and causes wonders. Everything they receive upon themselves is carried out in the most complete way with every detail accounted for… and just from seeing them I feel weakness. I try, I try to make progress, I’m fighting for this, but then I receive another amazing proof from a friend who is better than me, and all that I want is bury myself under the blanket…
This is not any easy thing to cope with at all. Especially because we are not aware of it. We know that we need to be brave like tigers against evil people, but what do we do in the face of Tsaddikim?
This is what Rebbe Natan is telling us: “’you shall count for yourselves’- to yourselves. Specifically to yourselves, that means that each person needs to count the Counting of the Omer, which is the aspect of strengthening himself, according to who he is, and he shouldn’t become discouraged by the fact that it seems to him that his peers are much better than him.”
We have here a command to every Jew who wants to be holier, and this command says- only look at yourself!
You’re counting, you want to make progress, to ascend, to enter the forty nine levels of holiness? So listen well!! Only look at yourself! Only count yourself! Only count for yourself! Don’t look at the counting of your friends. Don’t check where others are holding and what they are reaching. What do you even know about the place from where you arrived compared to their place?! What do you know about your mission and the incredible rectifications which are made from your every action and little bit of will?!
Continue doing without looking at what it (seems) that others have merited. Be yourself, with your service, with your personal path to holiness. Without comparisons!!! Do you understand? Even friends and loved ones can be your obstacles, if you try to compare yourself to them. Don’t count anyone! Here, in this place, in this area, think that you are alone in the world; there are no friends and no one is successful and complete; there is only you and your service of Hashem.
In the continuation of his teaching Rebbe Natan refers to the simpleton, from the story of the sophisticate and the simpleton (the 9th of Rebbe Nachman’s Stories): “The simpleton was a leather worker, and he couldn’t do the work as needed and his shoe had three ends, but he was very proud and he said ‘how nice and beautiful is this shoe’… and his wife would ask him: ‘if so, why are the rest of the shoe makers taking three coins for a pair of shoes and you only take one and half?’ He answered her: ‘what does that have to do with me? That’s his business and this is my business, and furthermore, why should we speak about others?!’
Rebbe Nachman gave a hint after he told this story that his intention was regarding prayer and the service of Hashem… that we should behave with a great amount of simplicity like the ways of the simpleton mentioned above… and to be happy always and not let the world confuse us. And even if his friends merit a lot more prayer and service of Hashem than him, nevertheless he should not fall in his mind because of this, rather he should be always happy with each and every good point that he finds in his prayer and service, whatever it might be.”
 Counting the forty nine days between Pesach and Shavuot